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Pacers squander opportunities in close loss to Blazers

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Indiana couldn't break through into the lead despite having numerous chances to do so against Portland, falling 88-82. Rodney Stuckey led Indiana with 16 points.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers lived up to their early season resume with another close loss where the Pacers struggled to make plays down the stretch, wasting a solid comeback only to chalk up another loss. Indiana's fought back in a number of different ways, but tonight's loss against the Portland Trail Blazers seemed particularly pronounced regarding a wealth of wasted opportunities.

Portland jumped up by six early at 10-4, and though they never blew the game wide open, they managed to make just the right amount of plays to make that six point lead insurmountable for the Pacers. The game proved particularly ugly in the first half, with neither team taking up much interest in putting points on the board, but every time it looked like the Blazers were going to get things rolling with a six to eight point run, Indiana would be there to respond in kind, always keeping the Pacers within striking distance.

But as good as Portland was at keeping the lead, Indiana was just as reliable in not being able to break through into the lead. And they certainly weren't without their opportunities. With a chance to tie the game in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter, Indiana had a missed three and a traveling violation. When Indiana finally tied the game at 64 early in the fourth, they subsequently missed their next three shots.

When the game was tied again at 66 moments later, the Pacers had two more missed shots as the Blazers opened up an 11-0 run as Indiana went on a scoring drought for nearly four minutes. But if it's one thing Indiana did well, it was close the gap, using a 6-0 run to make it a game again and a 7-1 run to climb to within three at 83-80 with under a minute remaining.

The Pacers were unable to come up with the necessary stop as LaMarcus Aldridge put in a pair of free throws, but sunk in their own dagger with a Damjan Rudez missed three on the ensuing position, as the Pacers would wind up on the losing end of an 88-82 score. Perhaps the biggest wasted opportunity was that Indiana caught Portland in exactly the kind of game the Pacers would have wanted them in.

Portland scored a season low 88 points, and entered action 1-3 in games when they scored under 100 points. For the Pacers, games in the 80's should be a key to victory. Indiana also entered tonight's game 4-1 when holding opponents under 90 points. But Indiana's biggest struggle this season compared to last is that even in games played in the 80's, they aren't guaranteed on the offensive end to make it a lock, where they are now 2-5 when scoring under 90 points.

Both teams shot under 40% for the night, but the Blazers had key advantages that helped ease their own offensive woes. Not only did they roll over the Pacers in transition by a score of 19-6, but while Indiana was just 5-8 from the free throw line, Portland was 18-23. Indiana also had 17 turnovers, which led to 24 Portland points. Whatever Indiana did well, particularly with offensive rebounds (11 on the night), they gave right back to the Blazers in miscues and bad shots.

Frank Vogel shuffled the rotation a bit tonight, moving Rodney Stuckey into the starting point guard role and playing Chris Copeland as a starter. Stuckey did lead the way for the Pacers with 16 points, but with four turnovers, had his own set of miscues, though with six rebounds and five assists, did play well in the role. Donald Sloan's play has been poor in the past week, as he was moved back into the third string role, seeing no action tonight.

Lavoy Allen also sat out his second straight game with David West and Roy Hibbert each playing. Indiana found success on the offensive glass, particularly from Solomon Hill. Hill had four offensive boards, putting in six of his 15 points off of those rebounds. In a game like tonight's though, Allen's play around the rim was missed, where every extra offensive board could've helped inflate Indiana's second chance opportunities.

Luis Scola continues to play well though, making it difficult in finding minutes for a solid three man PF rotation. Scola had 10 points to lead the bench, who scored 24 on the night. C.J. Miles and C.J. Watson had terrible shooting nights, going a combined 4-20 from the floor. Both suffered from some in and out misses, but also had a fair number of poor shots to their name.

West and Hibbert combined for 22 points and 15 rebounds on the night, managing to do well in limiting the efficiency of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard (though certainly not their numbers, with Lillard scoring 23 and Aldridge 18). The two were a bit testy tonight as well, each picking up technical fouls against Robin Lopez.

The loss is Indiana's third in a row, and for the second time this season, they find themselves five games under .500, this time at 7-12. All of Indiana's work in the second half of November where they went 6-3 has been undone by this winless road trip, one they'll wrap up tomorrow night against the upstart Sacramento Kings.